Flood damage is covered under most homeowners insurance policies if the required amount of coverage, usually a specific dollar limit, has been purchased from the insurer.
The policy also covers loss or damage resulting from seepage or leakage from pipes, appliances, and equipment considered “water-borne.” Water-borne causes can be outside (storm) or inside (plumbing) sources.
Flooding occurs when water accumulates in an area faster than it can drain away. Floodwaters can enter your home through openings in walls and floors, windows, doors, eaves, and utility openings such as improperly closed gas vents.
A standard homeowners policy excludes losses caused by floods; however, overland flooding triggered by rainstorms is covered by standard homeowners insurance, including the additional living expenses (ALE) coverage if you are required to live elsewhere because your home is uninhabitable. The standard policy also covers your belongings if damaged or destroyed in a flood, but there’s a limit on how much can be reimbursed. You’ll get up to $500 per room for items such as furniture and rugs regardless of whether you have homeowners’ comprehensive coverage or not.
How much water is considered a flood?
A flood is generally considered any water that comes from the ground up, whereas rainwater typically flows in one direction. There are instances when rainwater can exceed normal levels and produce flooding depending on how it falls (suddenly or over time).
Most state insurance departments define a “flood” as the inundation of water caused by rainfall, snowmelt, ice jams, or other causes that damage area homes, businesses, and their contents. Some states include mudslides, landslides, or avalanches into this definition, while others do not. A state’s report may also determine how many homeowners will be required to buy flood insurance and federal government programs in high-risk areas along the coasts.
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Flooding can happen anywhere, but most flood claims come from areas where there are known flood hazards. The 1980 census data reported more than 20 million housing units were within 500 feet of the coastline; 1.5 million homes were less than 100 feet from the coastline, and many homeowners chose to build their homes in other areas at risk for flooding. These facts prompted Congress to develop a comprehensive national flood damage insurance program on January 1, 1968.
The NFIP provides federally backed coverage to policyholders if their community participates in the NFIP and has been identified as having a significant risk for flooding damage. About five percent of all property owners have insurance through the NFIP. In some high-risk or coastal areas, as many as 20 percent of homeowners have purchased flood insurance from the program.
In some locations, not even finished buildings may have been destroyed by floods. Those responsible for building these homes might have to pay claims made under a property owner’s policy if a standard homeowners policy was in force at the time of loss. The following is a summary of how your home and belongings can be affected by flooding:
* Floods damage septic systems just as they do sewer systems. A home without sewer service provided by public utilities could lose its sanitary system, including a water heater and all hot water piping. Most such losses are covered only if the required coverage has been purchased.
* Flooding may cause a home to settle, and the damage it causes is not covered unless a “settling” endorsement has been added.
* Water that comes into your home through deep-seated leaks (from outside the house) may cause water pipes in your walls to freeze and burst, causing further damage. This type of damage would be covered only if the plumbing system within the walls had been included on an endorsement or schedule attached to your policy.
* The flooding can erode the soil around foundations allowing them to settle. Suppose you fail to prevent this from happening. In that case, you could lose any coverage for foundation movement, which is usually excluded under standard policies because of the high risk involved with this type of loss.
* Floodwater may damage the electrical wiring in your home. If the damage causes a short circuit, it could start a fire or cause an electrical appliance to malfunction. This type of loss would be covered under the standard policy only if you had purchased “all-risk” insurance for this item.
If a flood damages your house and you take no action to fix the damage within 30 days, coverage may be canceled, and there will be no liability under your policy. You must inform your agent and insurer as soon as possible after such a cancellation occurs. Your insurer may require proof that you have attached flood straps and sandbags around the house or elevated its contents above expected levels before reinstating coverage for future flood damages.